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Shiji 史記 "Records of the Grand Scribe" by Sima Tan 司馬談 and Sima Qian 司馬遷
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The first universal history of China was the Shiji 史記 "Records of the Grand Scribe", written by Sima Tan 司馬談 (d. ca. 110 BC) and his son Sima Qian 司馬遷 (145-86 BC), who both were court astrologers (taishi) 太史 during the Former Han Dynasty. The office of astrologer was very important to interprete and predict the course of government according to the stars and heavenly phenomena like sun eclipses, earthquakes, drought and so on.
Sima Qian completed the work of his father although he has been castrated for sympathizing with a general that had lost a battle. The pattern of his historiographic work was unique and should serve as model for the official standard histories of the imperial dynasties for the next two thousand years. The official histories of China are compilated to the corpus of Twenty-five Histories (Ershiwu Shi 二十五史).
The first four official Chinese historiographies are called together the "Four Historiographies" (Sishi 四史): The Shiji (reporting events the Yellow Emperor to Emperor Han Wudi) by Sima Tan and Qian, the Hanshu 漢書 (History of Former Han) by Ban Gu 班固, the Hou Hanshu 後漢書 (History of Later Han) by Fan Ye 范曄, and the Sanguozhi 三國志 (History of the Three Kingdoms) by Chen Shou 陳壽.
Sima father and son used a biographical type (jizhuanti 紀傳體) of historiography instead of an annalistic type (biannianti 編年體). They distinguish the following types of chapters:
1) the 集解 Jijie "Collected Explanations" commentary by Pei Yin 裴駰
2) the 索 隱 Suoyin "Guiderope to Obscurities" commentary by Sima Zhen 司馬貞
3) the 正義 Zhengyi "Correct Meaning" commentary by Zhang Shoujie 張守節
There are lots of translations of the Shiji into English, the most important being the Burton Watson translation.
上遂東巡海上，行禮祠八神。四月，還至奉高。上念諸儒及方士言封禪人人殊，不經，難施行。天子至梁父，禮祠地主。乙卯，令侍中儒者皮 弁薦紳，射牛行事。封泰山下東方，如郊祠泰一之禮。封廣丈二 尺，高九尺，其下則有玉牒書，書祕。禮畢，天子獨與侍中奉車 子侯上泰山，亦有封．其事皆禁。明日，下陰道．丙辰，禪泰山下阯東北肅然山，如祭后土禮。 天子皆親拜見，衣上黃而盡用樂焉。天子從封禪還，坐明堂，群臣更上壽．
Imperial Biographies: No. 12, Biography of the Filial Emperor Xiao-Wudi the Martial (r. 140-87 BC), translated by Ulrich Theobald
The emperor traveled, and then went eastwards, where he passed along and inspected the sea-cost. He made sacrifices and offerings to the Eight Spirits... In the fourth month, the emperor came back to Fenggao, where he thought about the words of the scholars and the magicians about the fengshan sacrifices for Heaven and Earth, that were all so confusing and misleading that is would be impossible to follow them. Thereupon the emperor went to the Liangfu summit to sacrifice the Lord of the Land, or Dizhu. On the day yimao, he ordered the official secretaries to wear their leather caps and the pinned official clothes and to perform the ritual shooting of oxen. In the east of Mount Tai, he had an altar erected for the Heavenly sacrifice that had to be performed like the sacrifice to the Great Unity in the suburbs. The altar was two zhang wide and nine zhang high, at the base of the altar a precious book-case was lying, but nobody knew what its content was. When the sacrifice was finished, the Son of Heaven alone with only a few secretaries and riding the carriage of (Huo) Zihou ascended Mount Tai to perform the feng sacrifice to Heaven once more. The performance of the sacrifice was thoroughly secret. On the next day he descended on the northern slope of the mountain. On the day bingchen, the emperor performed the chan sacrifice to the Earth at the north eastern corner of Mount Suran, like the sacrifice for the Mother Earth, or Houtu, is performed. All was performed by the emperor himself. We wore yellow clothes, and all ceremonies were accompanied by music... When the Son of Heaven came back the fengshan sacrifices, he seated himself in the Clear Hall, where all ministers and officials wished him a long life.
In the summer, the Han dynasty corrected the calendar and took the first month as the beginning of the year. The color of the dynasty was changed up to yellow, the official titles and the official seals were altered with the Five as leading number. The year was thus called the first year of the rule tilte "Great Commencing". During this year, the Han empire attacked Ferghana (Dayuan). A huge flock of locusts arose. Lady Ding and a wife Luoyang called Yu Chu used sorcery as a means of casting spells against the Xiongnu and the realm of Ferghana.
Hanshu, Imperial Biographies: No. 6, Biography of Emperor Wudi, translated by Homer Dubs
The emperor traveled, and then went eastwards, where he passed along and inspected the sea-cost. In the summer, the fourth month, on the day guimao, the emperor returned, and ascended and performed the sacrifice feng upon Mount Tai. The emperor descended the mountain and seated himself in the Clear Hall.
In the summer, the fifth month, the emperor corrected the calendar and took the first month as the beginning of the year; among the colors, he took yellow as the ruling color, and among the numbers, he used five. He fixed official titles and harmonized the sounds of the musical pipes. The emperor sent the General of Yinyu, Gongsun Ao, to buld the fortress Shouxiang outside of the barriers. In the autumn, the eight month, the emperor traveled and favored the commandery Anding. He sent the General of Sutrishna (Ershi), Li Guangli, to mobilize the reprobated common people of the empire, to go west and make an expedition against Ferghana (Dayuan). Locusts flew the eastern quarter and reached Dunhuang commandery.
Treatises: No. 6, Treatise about the sacrifice for Heaven and Earth, translated by Burton Watson
When the First Emperor (r. 246/221-210) was ascending Mount Tai he encountered a violent wind and rain storm halfway up the slope and had to stop for a while under large trees. The Confucian scholars, who had been dismissed and were not allowed to take part in the ritual of the feng sacrifice to Heaven, hearing of the Emperor's encounter with the storm, promptly used it as a basis to speak ill of him.
於是始皇遂東遊海上，行禮祠名山大川及八神，求僊人羨門之屬。八神將自古而有之，或曰太公以來作之。 齊所以為齊，以天齊也．其祀絕莫知起時。八神：一曰天主，祠天齊。天齊淵水，居臨菑南郊山下者。二曰 地主，祠泰山梁父。蓋天好陰，祠之必於高山之下，小山之上，命曰「畤」；地貴陽，祭之必於澤中圜丘云。
The First Emperor then proceeded east on his journey as far as the borders of the sea, stopping along the way to perform rituals and sacrifices to the various mountains and great rivers and to the Eight Spirits, and searching for immortal spirits such as Xianmen and his companions. The Eight spirits appear to have existed ancient times. Some people say that their worship was begun at the time of the Great Duke, the first lord of the state of Qi at the beginning of the Zhou dynasty. But since the sacrifices were later discontinued, no one knows exactly when they originated. Of the Eight spirits, the first was called the Lord of Heaven, or Tianzhu; sacrifices to him were offered at the Navel of Heaven. The Navel of Heaven, or Tianqi, is the name of a spring situated at the foot of a mountain in the southern suburbs of the city of Linzi. It is said that the state of Qi takes its name this place. The second was called Lord of the Land, or Dizhu, and was sacrificed to at Liangfu near Mount Tai. It appears that since Heaven loves the yin, the principle of darkness, it must be worshiped at the foot of a high mountain or on top of a small hill, at a place called an "altar"; while because Earth honors the yang, the principle of light, the sacrifices to it must always be conducted on a round hill in the midst of a lowland.
Biographies of Eminent Persons: No. 9, The House of Jin, translated by Ulrich Theobald
In the fifteenth year of his reign, Duke Dao the Mournful of Jin (r. 573-558 BC) asked Shi Kuang about government, who said: "Benevolence and righteousness shall be the base of your politics." In the winter, Duke Dao died, and his son Biao followed as the later Duke Ping the Appeaser (r. 558-532). In the first year of Duke Ping's reign, he attacked Qi. Jin met with the armies of Duke Ling the Clever (r. 582-554) to battle at Mixia. The army of Qi was defeated, soldiers started to run away. Master Yan told the Duke of Qi: "My Lord, don't be too foolhardy, why don't you stop battling?" The Duke stopped fighting and withdraw. The troops of Jin followed them and besieged Linzi, the capital of Qi, burned down the houses and massacred the people. In the east, the troops of Jin reached Jiao and advanced to the south until they came to Yi, but when Qi was able to defend all its cities, the troops of Jin withdraw.
Biographies: No. 2, Biographies of Guan (Zhong) and Yan (Ying), translated by Ulrich Theobald
Yan Pingzhong, also named Ying, was of barbarian descent of the old country of Lai. He served the Dukes Ling the Clever (r. 582-555 BC), Zhuang the Dignified (r. 554-549) and Jing the Luminous (r. 548-491) of Qi. Because of his austerity and his efforts, he was greatly appreciated by the people of Qi. When he became prime minister of Qi, he did not eat meat, and his wifes did not wear silk. At the court, when the Lord asked him for his advice, he answered very carefully, but when he was not asked, he at least behaved very carefully. When the state was running on the right path, he behaved according to his position, but when the state did not run on the right way, he weighed and measured his position. Doing this, he could make the three generations of rulers he served the most famous under all the rulers of their time.
Yue Shifu was a capable man, but because of some crime, he was in prison. When Master Yan once went out and met him on the way, he loosened a horse his carriage and ransomed him. Together, they went home, and Master Yan let him stay in his house for a very long time without giving him farewell. Finally, Yue Shifu wanted to leave his host. Master Yan was surprised, took off his robe and cap and said to him, apologizing: "Although I am not very benevolent, I helped you to get out of great trouble. Why do you want to leave me that early?" Shifu answered: "Don't talk like this. I heard, your eminence is mistrusted by people that do not know themselves, and you are trusted by people that know themselves. When I was in prison, these people did not understand me. But you had a really feeling for me and freed me, that is knowing oneself. Knowing oneself, but acting without politeness, that is shurely not as bad as being in chains." Thereupon, Master Yan asked him to be one of his retainers.